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There is a sign that reads "Wild Kitchen, London and Cajun Style" in front of a new restaurant on Stella Link. Combinations like steak-and-kidney gumbo, banger and mash poor boys and spotted dick beignets sparked across my cerebral cortex.
8806 Stella Link
Houston, TX 77025
Special burger: $6.25
Animal burger: $5.45
Oyster burger: $4.45
Fish basket: $3.75
Ten hush puppies: $1.95
It was too much to imagine, so I stopped in. The interior offered no clue. It was painted bright blue and white, with a strip of brown wallpaper depicting a French street scene running around the interior. All along the top of the wall, another wallpaper border read "Home Sweet Home" in early American sampler script. A plaque advertising London as a travel destination hung on one wall. And good-luck banners attached to the potted plants were written in Asian characters. Behind the counter were an Asian man and a Hispanic woman.
The man, who spoke faltering English, was trying unsuccessfully to take an order over the phone. I asked the woman about the owners. Had a Cockney-speaking bloke married a Cajun dance-hall queen and opened a restaurant in Houston, maybe? She said she didn't know.
The menu, which appeared both on the wall and on the front counter, was a kaleidoscopic array of color photos. As I looked it over, the London-Cajun connection began to come into focus. The place offered a lot of fried fish. And you could get your fish and chips with a typical British-style batter or a spicy Cajun cornmeal coating.
The restaurant also appeared to be very proud of their hamburgers, which were neither English nor Cajun. Signs on the outside of the building boasted that their ground meat was fresh, never frozen. The photos on the menu showed ten burgers, ten fish baskets and ten chicken dishes. And that was just the beginning.
The menu included the Animal Burger, the Special Burger and the Wild Kitchen Big Burger along with uncounted variations of four-ounce and seven-ounce meat patties configured in single and double burgers with single or double cheese, fries and/or rings.
And then there were the "Shrimp Burger," the "Oyster Burger" and the "Fish Sandwich," along with all the one piece, two pieces or three pieces of catfish or pollack fried London- or Cajun-style, with or without shrimp and oysters. Not to mention the soups and salads. There were also hush puppies, waffle fries and tempura vegetables on the side. Oh, did I mention the pork sandwich? The menu says it's served on "texas toasted."
Intrigued by the Animal Burger, I attempted to figure out what was on it by reading the menu. "Both sides of the bread are toasted. Two 100% ground fresh meat," read the description. But then it said, "7 oz meat $6.25."
"If it has two burger patties, and you sell four-ounce and seven-ounce burgers, then how could it contain seven ounces of meat?" I asked the woman behind the counter.
"I don't know," she shrugged. Much of the menu was similarly indecipherable. The only thing to do was start ordering stuff. So I asked for an Animal Burger and a two-piece fish basket with shrimp and oysters, half fried London-style and half fried Cajun-style. I got it to go and took it home for a family dinner.
The luscious Animal Burger did indeed contain two juicy seven-ounce meat patties with the usual Texas complement of mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, along with the unexpected addition of Thousand Island dressing. I split it with my daughter, and neither one of us could finish half of it. Other available burger extras at Wild Kitchen include bacon, extra cheese, jalapeños, chili, avocado, grilled onions and mushrooms. I shudder to think of what an Animal Burger with all the extras might look like.
We all preferred the lovely golden brown batter on the London fish over the slightly gritty Cajun cornmeal coating. But oddly, nobody liked the London-style shrimp. The seafood got lost in the batter blanket. Cajun cornmeal was vastly preferable on the shrimp, but in truth, they were a little overcooked anyway. There are a lot of places in Houston with better fried shrimp.
But the extremely juicy, large fried oysters were exceptional. I tried them with both the London and the Cajun coating, and I am calling it a jump ball. They were both great. And the onion rings were spectacular. They resembled the tempura onions you get at a Japanese restaurant.
Although Wild Kitchen's decor seems intended to encourage customers to get their food to go, on my second visit, my lunchmate and I sat at one of the half-dozen tables and marveled at the eclectic interior. I tried to read the French wallpaper. She pointed out that the table coverings weren't really tablecloths -- they were unhemmed pieces of rough-cut fabric with clear plastic over the top.
I got an oyster burger. It was a hamburger bun stuffed with three big fried oysters in London-style batter along with lettuce, tomatoes and mayo. It was great for those three bites that contained the fried oysters. My lunchmate got a four-ounce cheeseburger. It looked a little petite for my tastes, but the bite I sampled was quite good. Our food was delivered by the head cook, who was an Asian woman. The ethnicity of the restaurant grew ever more confusing.